How many minutes are there in 540 seconds?
In the time it took to digest that question, 9-year-old Jose Nieves had already gripped his marker and began calculating an answer on his small dry-erase board. The fourth-grader whispered confidently with Natalie Gonzalez, 10, one of his two teammates from Kennelly School.
Seated at a nearby table, the opposing fourth-grade team from Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School also worked with a quiet quickness.
Both teams were asked to present their answers. Nine minutes, they each concluded.
Correct. So went a double-overtime fourth-grade math championship battle that eventually ended in Kennelly's favor after a lightning round that drew oohs in the main atrium of the Hartford Public Library on Thursday.
This was no ordinary quiz — at least 200 people watched, from parents and siblings to district administrators and students representing about 20 schools across Hartford in the school system's annual academic competition for grades 3 to 8.
Jose, the Kennelly team captain for the math showdown, had appeared smooth in the finals, writing and erasing answers on his board with swift motions.
"Shaking," he admitted later. "A lot."
When the contest began a few years ago, "we were a lower-performing district than we are today," Superintendent Steven Adamowski said. "But we were very good in sports at our comprehensive high schools, and it was really a need to shift the focus from athletic to academic competition, and student achievement in general."
The school system's chief academic officer, Penny MacCormack, and the curriculum directors used state standards to devise the questions. After city students take the Connecticut Mastery Test in March, they go on vacation for a week but return to face classroom and schoolwide competitions. Winners advance to regionals. From there, the top teams and individuals compete in the citywide finals.
Thursday's champions received silver cup trophies. Aside from Kennelly, they were Noah Webster for third-grade vocabulary; Jenellie Riketts of West Middle School for fifth-grade writing and recitation; Capital Preparatory Magnet School for sixth-grade vocabulary; Mary Hooker Environmental Studies Magnet School for seventh-grade math; and Amberleigh Delgado of Noah Webster for eighth-grade writing and recitation.
Before the seventh-grade math finals, Joanna Negron made sure to take a photo of her son, Raul Goycoechea, with his Hooker teammates. Each student wore a medal around their neck from the contest's earlier rounds.
"He makes me happy all the time," said Negron, a retail manager at the Burlington Coat Factory. "He's 12 years old, out of the streets, likes school."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun